How Scientists Finally Vanquished The Pink Bollworm

Cotton farmers have been plagued by the caterpillar-like insect since it arrived in North America 100 years ago. Genetically engineered cotton helped eradicate it.

By Michael Marks & Shelly BrisbinJanuary 6, 2021 2:17 pm,

The pink bollworm was once the scourge of Southwest’s cotton farmers. The bollworm is really a moth, but it gets its name from the tiny larvae that hatch in cotton bolls. But there’s new evidence that efforts to eradicate the pest have been successful.

For the better part of a century, farmers spent untold amounts of money on pesticides to protect their crops from bollworms. Efforts to eradicate the bollworm in North America have been decades in the making. It’s a rare success story in the world of invasive pests.

Bruce Tabashnik is head of the entomology department at the University of Arizona. He told Texas Standard that the pink bollworm is not the same kind of insect as the boll weevil, which is also a threat to cotton.

“The pink bollworm is a caterpillar pest, and when it completes its eating in forms pupae and then emerges as a moth,” Tabashnik said.

One secret to eradicating the pink bollworm was genetically engineered cotton. Bacterial proteins within the cotton kill the bollworms, but aren’t harmful to people or other insects. 

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– Where the pink bollworm might have come from

– What lessons scientists have learned that could apply to other pests

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